When it comes to staining, information is retrieved from the system via an autostainer interface, directing the instrument as to the type of staining to perform, removing the need for manual staining work lists and setup in the staining instrument.
Introducing this type of technology also offers labs the opportunity to improve ergonomics at the workbench. With an automated, barcode driven workflow, printed worklists are no longer required. Instead, these are replaced by barcode scanners and wall-mountable touch screens at each step, saving valuable space at the work bench.
With the addition of request form imaging the lab can go completely paperless, as the scanned request form is available in the system for everyone to view, at any point in the process.
With a single source for specimen traceability it is easier to check up on progress of a particular patient request or locate a specimen if further lab work is required. In addition, an audit trail of all user activity makes it easier and quicker to meet accreditation requirements.
When choosing and implementing an automated electronic specimen tracking system there are a number of things to consider, both in terms of technology and impact on staff.
New hardware investments will be required, including touch screen computers, barcode readers, and slide or label printers as well as cassette writer instruments. However, some tracking systems may only work with particular instrument makes and models. More flexible systems can be interfaced to different auto strainers, cassette writers and slide printers so that the lab doesn’t get locked into using particular instruments.
In addition, there may be costs associated with developing an interface between the specimen tracking software and the LIS, unless it is a fully integrated system.
The introduction of an automated tracking system and single piece processing will likely result in considerable processing changes with implications for staff functions, so it is important to conduct a workflow analysis to assess the likely impact. While most labs report that overall turn-around time for sample processing is maintained or reduced, some processes may in fact become more time-consuming (at least initially while the new system is bedding-in) and some staff may end up with new responsibilities. When staff are already busy with their day-to-day jobs and are facing the prospect of a change to their role, they can often be resistant to the introduction of a new system. In these cases, it often helps to obtain their buy-in to the quality and patient safety objectives for the new system at the outset and continue to keep them informed and involved throughout the process.
While anatomical pathology labs using automated electronic tracking, technology are still in the minority, it is a technology whose time has come, and labs that go down this path say they wouldn’t go back.